Time in a bottleneck

“The Time Keeper,” by Mitch Albom (2012)

Who divided up the days into hours, the hours into minutes?
How could they really be that smart?
Who divided up the minutes into seconds?
They must have had a broken
Must have had a broken heart

— Joan Osborne, “Who Divided”

In Mitch Albom’s latest novel, we meet the guy who divided the days into hours, the hours into minutes, and so forth. He ended up with a broken heart.

Young Dor, living at the dawn of humanity’s history, invents numbers and counting. He mitchalbom.comfigures out how to mark the passage of time with a shadow, stick, and stone. As he grows older, marries his beloved Alli, and has children, he becomes consumed with catching shadows and measuring water. He invents the first clock and calendar.

That’s when it gets complicated.

His childhood “frenemy” uses one of Dor’s sun sticks to try to defeat the gods and gain power. This forces Dor and Alli into exile, leaving their children in the care of others. When Alli dies, an anguished Dor ends up imprisoned in a cave where he will not age a moment. The only thing he can do is listen, for eternity, to the voices of everyone on earth asking for more time.

Well, not quite eternity. After thousands of years, Dor (aka Father Time) is freed with a magical hourglass and a redemptive mission to help two particular people understand the gift of time. Sarah is a teen girl of high intelligence and low self-esteem. Her sense of time crumbles along with her heart when the boy she likes does not like her back (or even treat her with basic decency or respect). Victor is a self-made billionaire who is used to getting what he wants. When his cancer is deemed untreatable, he seeks immortality in science — by making secret plans to have his body frozen for revival centuries later. Sarah and Victor don’t just need Father Time’s intervention. They need each other in ways they’ll discover only when the paths of all three converge and difficult choices are required. The last part of the book is somewhat reminiscent of Scrooge’s life review in “A Christmas Carol.”

Time happens. It passes. It’s a gift from God, and a precious one at that. At the same time, it’s an earthly construct. Or more accurately, its measurement and manipulation are our doing and not God’s. That’s what Albom seems to say in this fast-moving (or did it just seem that way?) read.

Albom, like me, comes from the world of newspaper deadlines. Much more rides on time in fields such as emergency medicine and firefighting. Apart from this — what if we let go of our need to cram as much activity or accomplishment into every minute, hour, or day as possible? Or our need to treat time as if it doesn’t matter because we think we don’t matter? We might find peace we didn’t know was possible in this lifetime.

“All in God’s time.” It’s a tough concept in an impatient age . . . but definitely worth considering.

Unexpected growth

My father gave me this plant, a croton only a few inches tall then, a week or so before he died. In the 20-plus years since, it’s grown and survived several moves, getting toppled by a kitten, and an attempted rawhide bone burial in its soil by an Australian shepherd. Its offspring from cuttings are healthy and lush. The original, now a long trunk/stem with some leaves on top, has hung in there.

We can come to the point where all evidence points to something staying exactly the way it is, and we think we’re foolish to believe, much less hope, otherwise. Things are the way they are — make the best of it. Right? Sure, we hear words about hope and change, but that’s not reality. Not for us.

Then we get an idea for Croton-new growtha new product or creative project. A challenge at work or at home forces us to reexamine the ordinary. We discover an unexpected connection. A gift comes our way, seemingly out of the blue.

In the case of this seasoned croton, a shiny little leaf appears about midway up the trunk. The plant had no apparent reason to sprout new growth here; leaves usually start growing up top with the other leaves. But a new branch in the middle of nowhere?

The reality of the present moment may look the same, but this little green leaf reminds us that reality is, in fact, change and growth. Much of it happens behind the scenes, but when it appears, might we see that reality differently? Might we even dare to hope?

The angel Gabriel — charged with the daunting task of convincing a teenage girl that her unplanned pregnancy was part of a much bigger plan — said it best: “Nothing shall be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)